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Judgment of the Reviled

In international criminal tribunals, those accused of perpetrating heinous crimes such as genocide are usually put on trial before a panel of esteemed jurists who possess wisdom, integrity, experience, and a profound understanding of legal principles. In other words, the reviled are customarily judged by those considered revered. Regrettably, this fundamental formula for justice will be flagrantly lacking in the Khmer Rouge trials.

The person effectively in control of the Khmer Rouge trials is Cambodia's despotic leader, Hun Sen. Although reviled by many, in these trials he has cast himself in the role of the revered. Being in charge of the proceedings ensures that Hun Sen will escape prosecution even though he is a former Khmer Rouge commander himself. And though he claims to have been merely a servant in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy, he learned well the ways of the Khmer Rouge before he turned on them. Hun Sen's soldiers shot dead several opposition party officials and tortured to death opposition soldiers in a July 1997 coup d'etat. Some of the murdered soldiers were found with eyes gouged out, others with fingers crushed in metal clamps. In another deadly show of force, Hun Sen henchmen threw grenades into a peaceful opposition party demonstration killing 19 people and injuring over 100. Eye-witnesses reported that police quarantining the scene left the severely wounded to die in the sun despite pleas from onlookers to take them to the hospital. A comprehensive FBI investigation concluded that Hun Sen's personal bodyguards were behind the attack. Despite having broken from the ranks of the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen remains adept at using their brutal tactics.

Crimes for which Khmer Rouge leaders will be tried were committed three decades ago. The inhuman policies of the Khmer Rouge caused the death of almost two million Cambodians, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the population at the time. Human life had no inherent value under the Khmer Rouge regime and their motto was: "To kill you is no loss, to keep you is no gain." Unlike the austerity of the Khmer Rouge, Hun Sen's Cambodia is characterized by the complete freedom to indulge in greed and lust. Since powerful people profit from the sex industry, child prostitution is effectively government sanctioned. One human rights organization reported that a police captain who raided a brothel to rescue underage girls was later reprimanded by her superiors for doing so. Human life, or at least human flesh, apparently has some value in Hun Sen's Cambodia, even if human rights does not. Respect for property rights also does not exist in present-day Cambodia. If a piece of land becomes desirable, government officials and military commanders simply force out villagers and take it for themselves. Forests are treated as the personal possession of top officials to be freely sold to the highest bidder. Never mind that deforestation contributes to floods and droughts causing villagers to starve. The new motto is: "To kill you is no loss, as long as your leaders stand to gain."

Thus, it is difficult to determine who is to be more reviled in this Khmer Rouge trial charade - the prosecuted Khmer Rouge or the prosecutor Hun Sen. To their discredit, the UN and international community have given Hun Sen control over the proceedings and thus the pen with which to write the tale. To aid him in this task, he has already appointed two notorious judges to the tribunal: Ney Thol and Thou Mony. Ney is an army general and central committee member in Hun Sen's political party who sentenced an opposition parliamentarian to seven years imprisonment on dubious charges that drew heavy criticism from both foreign diplomats and human rights organizations. Thou is renowned for having overturned a conviction of two of Hun Sen's nephews for their participation in a shooting spree that left two people injured and two dead. Yet, the Khmer Rouge trial is supposed to demonstrate to Cambodians that those who have committed murder cannot do so with impunity. Evidently, that is only the case when those who commit atrocities are not under Hun Sen's personal protection.

Thankfully the United States is taking the high road in this tragic comedy, staunchly refusing to become actors in Hun Sen's farce while carefully watching the drama as it unfurls. The UN continues to play the role of court jester, kowtowing to the whims of the Khmer Rouge turncoat-turned-leader, and injudiciously legitimizing what will be a judgment against the reviled by the reviled. The ultimate irony is that prosecution of the person orchestrating these trials - the current tyrant of Cambodia - would do more to help the Cambodian people than prosecution of their tyrants of 30 years ago.

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